OTR Interviews

Federal judges embrace 'cost effectiveness,' Hawaii-style

Judges defend potential million dollar Hawaii conference and appear Maui-bound, despite GSA scandal's shadow


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 18, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Golf, tennis, snorkling at a Hawaiian resort and spa. What does that sound like to you, a judicial convention or a vacation? Sure sounds like a pleasure trip to us, but judges from 9th circuit now defending their plans for a Maui conference, a conference that could cost you, the taxpayers, more than a million dollars.

Now, in a letter to the 9th circuit, GOP Senators Jeff Sessions and Chuck Grassley questioned the need for such a lavish trip. We spoke with the senators a short time ago.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senators, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, R-IOWA: Glad to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, I'll start with you, Senator Grassley. You've received a letter in response to your May 18th letter about this 9th circuit judicial conference in Hawaii. The chief judge, Alex Kozinski, has now replied to your letter. Are you satisfied?

GRASSLEY: Absolutely not. It seems like they expressed very much unconcern and very unapologetic about spending a million dollars for a conference in Maui, Hawaii, that could probably be done by teleconferencing. Or the very least, they could do like a lot of other conferences do, maybe not have a conference as often as they do. And more importantly, it seems to me very essential that they look at alternatives or -- or maybe not having a conference.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Sessions, are you satisfied with the letter from the chief judge?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: No. I agree with Chuck. The tone of the letter is, We're authorized to do this, we've been doing it since 1944, we think it's good, people like to go to Hawaii, we have better attendance in Hawaii.

And there's no recognition that of the million-plus that's spent, 40 percent of that is borrowed money. The United States government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend.

And so I think the entire government is lax about and in denial about the danger of our debt. But I really think that there's no circuit that comes close to the expenditure size of the 9th circuit conferences.

GRASSLEY: And there are other officers in the judicial branch of government, like the budget people that are in charge of the judicial conference -- they talk about how we have cut expenditures by 5 percent, our budget's been cut by 5 percent, we have to lay off people.

So it's kind of a case of priorities, and I would think that an expensive conference like this would not have as high a priority as maybe taking care of other things when you don't have the money to do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: A couple things struck me about the letter. Number one is the chief judge writes in part -- he says, "As you know, circuit conferences are authorized by law." That is indeed true. What he doesn't put in this letter -- and I thought it was significant. I went back and looked at the law, section 28 USC section 333. It says, "The chief judge of each circuit may hold this conference."

So it's not like, you know, everyone's holding a gun to his head that he has to hold these conferences.

SESSIONS: Well, he -- and others don't. Others are not having conferences this year. The are about -- there are 12 circuits. Only seven are having a conference this year. And for the fourth time in nine years, the 9th circuit goes to Hawaii, where they have one circuit judge and have 28 or so circuit judges in the remaining part of the circuit. They don't go there.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's not just nine justices or 10 or 27 or whatever. It's 300 government workers in the judicial system go to this, right, Senator?

GRASSLEY: They spend half of their day in conferencing and the other half of the day recreation, is the way that I view the program of the conference.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you say "conferencing," I imagine that Senator Sessions, who's a lawyer, probably feels the same way that I might about these -- about these conferences. I mean, how much -- I mean, even the meetings that they have, how much of these meetings even are necessary to any sort of product for the American people?

SESSIONS: It's a time to get together. The judges like to do that. They like to invite lawyers and come together. And there may be some benefit from that. But certainly, many of the conferences are totally irrelevant to many of the participants there. And there are large portions of the day that are not filled with conferences. And judges are not -- to my knowledge, they're required to take roll.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me be a cynic: Is it that there are these - - these conferences that -- first of all, some lawyers get invited, so it's a tad bit like a popularity contest, I guess, if I can be a cynic, right? Would you -- would you agree with me with that or not?

SESSIONS: Judges invite private practitioners, who are honored to be invited.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So -- and then -- and then the lawyers who do go, who got to some meetings, get continuing legal education credits, right, which are necessary to keep their license current in the state.

But there's no indication -- maybe they do, but at least the chief judge doesn't say that there's any attendance taken at these meetings before their afternoon or late afternoon recreation, as Senator Grassley says.

GRASSLEY: Or a conference seminar on how to use an iPad, is what I saw on one of the programs as an example.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anything you can do about this?

SESSIONS: I think there is. First of all, I do think the chief justice has already taken some steps to be more frugal in the courts. They are...

VAN SUSTEREN: Meaning Justice Roberts.

SESSIONS: Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts. And other circuits are showing some discipline and frugality. And I think the message needs to be delivered to the 9th and any other circuit that, when they have a conference, the cost ought to be reduced.

We are -- we have never been in a case -- in a situation where my Budget Committee colleague, Senator Grassley, and I know, that this nation faced such a debt crisis. We're in a deep debt crisis, and much of our bureaucracy does not recognize it. It's still business as usual, whereas as I indicated, 40 cents of every dollar spent on that conference is borrowed because that's how much in debt we are.

VAN SUSTEREN: The other 60 is paid for by the taxpayers, the other 60 cents. Does the chief judge have a tin ear, or is that unfair?

GRASSLEY: What did you say?

VAN SUSTEREN: Does the chief judge of the 9th circuit have a tin ear in terms of how he responded to -- in this letter in terms of recognizing the money spent on this conference?

GRASSLEY: Well, as I said, I think it's unconcern and unapologetic about it, and it's just business as usual. And it's an attitude that, We don't care what Congress thinks about how we spend the money.